Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

The Verbal Art of Bribery: Going Further than Detroit’s Front Door

The Verbal Art of Bribery:  Going Further than Detroit’s Front Door

Darlene Pennington-Johnson

The use of language describes and situates illicit activity, but it is also used to commit acts.  From that perspective we can look no further than our own city of Detroit or other cities surrounding Detroit to interrogate issues involving bribery.  However, bribery is greater than just a local concern. In fact, bribery and corruption are endemic corporate and public concerns globally.

Through a review of the scholarly literature, this paper examines corporate approaches to bribery, variation in the language used to commit bribery, and the verbal art used to characterize what constitutes a bribe globally.  Bribery is described in much of the world in different ways and within different contexts.  Verbal art provides the nuanced, cultural, linguistic and social competence for the performative act of bribery to take place.   Yet, equally important to the economic consideration of bribery is an analysis of when a gift is a bribe and when it is not. This paper is also an analysis of the linguistic and conceptual distinctions between gifts and bribes globally.  These notions of bribery and gift giving often overlap, shift and ultimately affect perceptions based on etic and emic interpretations.  The goal of this paper is not to simply discuss bribery as it is laid out in the scholarly literature; it is also a cross-linguistic analysis of the how gifts and bribes are distinguished from one another in several cultures.

April 15, 2013 - Posted by | abstract


  1. This is an interesting topic, but I have a few questions. how are you distinguishing between gifts and bribes? And what is the relevance of Detroit (as named in the topic) to your examination of bribery in a global context?

    Comment by H. Hatch | April 15, 2013 | Reply

  2. Very interesting analysis of bribery particularly with corporate approaches to bribery and the way you mention that,bribery is described in much of the world in different ways and within different contexts. I am interested in a further look at these issues and would like to read your paper,if available for public consumption.

    Comment by Jennifer | April 28, 2013 | Reply

  3. Thank you for your important comment! Bribery is described in much of the world in different ways and within different context. To provide an analysis of gift exchange versus bribery I look at these concepts of exchange from the perspectives of several cultures, such as guanxi and blat, Chinese and Russian forms of exchange.

    The point of placing Detroit in the title was to simply address the elephant in the room. My paper briefly discusses this hotbed local issue that has captured media attention both locally and nationally. However, the overall goal of my paper is to situate these discussions in a global context. Emphasizing that bribery is greater than just a local concern, it is an endemic global concern. I hope this helps. Again, thank you for your comment.

    Comment by Darlene Pennington-Johnson | April 28, 2013 | Reply

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